6.The Sponsor Body’s initial overriding objective is to propose an Outline Business Case (OBC) for Restoration and Renewal to be agreed by both Houses of Parliament. As we discuss later, developing the OBC will require consultation with Members of both Houses and trade unions, creative engagement with the public, and input and buy–in from staff working in both Houses. Equally significantly, the OBC will have to define what is meant by Restoration and Renewal and provide options around which members from both Houses can coalesce.
7.Ed Ollard, the Clerk of the Parliaments, told us that he did not believe that the Sponsor Body would be able independently to develop a solution to the problem it faces:
I will just say that there was initially a slight feeling that the Sponsor Body was going to take everything away and come up with a solution. I think that is slightly misleading. The Sponsor Body will need to get assistance from the two Houses to make decisions about what they actually want in terms of outcomes and requirements. That may be the most tricky part of this, I think.
8.Becky Clark, Director of the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division for the Church of England, told us that the extent to which the project becomes focused on renewal must be decided by Parliament–“Parliament needs to have the principles down. Is this bricks and mortar? Is this expansion? Is this renewal? If it is renewal, what does that mean?” Her argument was underlined by Sir John Armitt, the former Chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority:
I condense my view of major projects into why, what and how. Very often, we do not spend enough time thinking about the why; everybody likes to talk about the how. Basically, one has to retain that understanding of why you are doing this and what you want from it—what is the output that you are seeking at the end of the day?
9.Ed Ollard and Sir David Natzler, Clerk of the House of Commons, considered that establishing a broad vision for Restoration and Renewal may be possible at an early stage, but making detailed choices at a more granular level was where Member interest would arise. They noted that such choices would require difficult trade-offs–for example, we heard from multiple witnesses that huge steps forward are required to make the Palace useable for people with disabilities and we are firmly of the view that improving disabled access should be a fundamental aspect of R&R, but Ed Ollard noted that to make the entire Palace fully disability compliant would be “really stretching, very expensive and possibly difficult to achieve in terms of some of the heritage impacts.” There is a great deal of experience in adapting historical buildings to best standards for accessibility, and we expect the Palace to set the highest standards in this area.
10.Becky Clark agreed that developing the OBC cannot be achieved by the Sponsor Body alone, saying the “Sponsor Body needs to have, from Parliament, the principles by which it is going to design the business case and the brief.” Ms Clark added a warning that the OBC must shape the eventual design and not vice–versa:
You do not do a business case based on a design. That is backwards; you have to start from the business case. You know, as the client, what you want to deliver. Then you build the design around that.
11.Restoration of the Palace of Westminster is well understood and we have no doubt that a programme of works to protect, enhance, and in some cases reveal, the features of the building is urgently required. Furthermore, it has been established beyond doubt that the physical fabric and engineering infrastructure of the building requires a complete overhaul. Physical restoration of the Palace and its infrastructure will constitute approximately 75% - 80% of the total works, but this still leaves a significant amount of work which may fall under the banner of renewal.
12.There is no agreed definition of what renewal of Parliament will entail, and we note that renewal will not simply encompass the work located within the Palace of Westminster. It will be the responsibility of the Sponsor Body to develop proposals which describe both what renewal is and how it will alter the fabric of the Parliamentary buildings. Sir David Natzler suggested a fairly modest ambition encompassing practical changes such as the installation of entirely new heating and electrical systems. The academics at the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics at the University of Sheffield attempted to outline what else ‘renewal’ of Parliament may mean:
The R&R programme is a once in a lifetime opportunity to promote a new and inclusive ‘politics of optimism’ about the capacity of parliamentary institutions to recognise the extent and pace of social change and to reconnect with sections of society that for a number of reasons feel alienated and disconnected.
13.Their evidence described the different approaches that could shape the renewal aspect of parliamentary democracy:
The Palace of Westminster was never designed or intended to operate as an international tourist attraction hosting over a million visitors a year. The approach by the Sponsor Body could therefore be very limited or very ambitious. The former would focus on the introduction of new public spaces, more toilets, increasing disabled access, increasing the amount of publicly accessible areas and making the entrance to the Palace of Westminster friendlier and more welcoming. However, a more ambitious—and in the long-run cost-effective—approach would be to follow the lesson of other legislatures and parliaments around the world and think of improving the visitor experience in terms of the broader parliamentary estate, especially in terms of the space around Parliament Square.
14.Professor Matthew Flinders of the Crick Centre said that if R&R does not produce a demonstrable material change then the legitimacy of the project will suffer.:
The biggest danger of this project is that, after at least a decade of decant, all the scaffolding and plastic comes off and everything is exactly the same, and the public say, “What was all that about?”
15.We have been informed that BDP, the company currently undertaking a comprehensive assessment of the works that need to be done on the Palace, is drawing up four options, ranging from a minimalist one to repair and-replace only what is absolutely necessary, to a maximalist one encompassing everything anyone might want, with two other options in between. It seems likely that the Sponsor Body will favour one of the two central options.
16.There are limitations to what renewal of Parliament within the R&R programme can achieve. Sir David Natzler told us that R&R should future-proof Parliament to enable technological and political developments of this century and the next, but that in itself R&R would not deliver political change:
The one cautionary note that I would strike is the belief that what we are going to do to the building is going to create some sort of democratic renewal—in other words, is going to change the way the nation is governed. That may come around anyway because that is what people wanted to happen. I am not going to trespass into how the House of Lords composition might change, but it wouldn’t be because of the way we are going to deal with the Palace. It would be because the nation has decided that is what it wants to do, and we must make sure that the Palace does not stand in the way [ … ] I don’t think it should drive some particular agenda, but it mustn’t stand in the way of it.
17.Renewal brings with it an opportunity to shape parliament by listening to and harnessing the views of the general public. The Sponsor Body will not achieve the potential of the building if consultation and engagement is limited to a narrow set of users. We heard repeatedly that accessibility in different forms should be central to renewal, therefore the Sponsor Body should attempt to understand how and why the general public engage with parliamentarians and the political process in Westminster.
18.There are limits to what the Restoration and Renewal programme can achieve in terms of political renewal. It will be for Parliament to decide on constitutional changes and for each House to determine any changes to its procedures. What the Sponsor Body should set out to deliver is a Parliament capable of absorbing and accommodating major political and constitutional reforms. Nevertheless, as indicated in this Report, we believe the term ‘renewal’ requires an outward-facing approach to the UK Parliament’s role at the centre of our democracy.
19.Restoration and Renewal will be a multi–billion pound project, but the cost to the public purse should be balanced against the fact that the Palace of Westminster is the UK’s most iconic building and recognised across the globe as embodying the fundamental strength of representative parliamentary democracy.
20.It has been established beyond doubt that the Palace is at risk of catastrophic failure and as a UNESCO world heritage site the Government is obliged to ensure the building is maintained and protected. Our generation of Parliamentarians should not shirk from the challenge of not only protecting the fabric of the building, but investing in a building which can meet the democratic demands of the British people both in this century and the next.
21.We are concerned that a culture of cynicism and pessimism lingers around Restoration and Renewal. Parliamentarians and those involved in the project have sounded almost apologetic about the ambitions inherent to Restoration and Renewal. For the project to succeed, and for the public to buy into its ambitions, its leaders must champion its objectives central to which should be the promotion of inclusive participatory democracy in the UK. The country is evolving and so must the building in which the most important decisions which touch upon every member of the population are made.
13 DPB 003, para 2
14 Ibid, para 7
Published: 21 March 2019